Greetings from Belgium

Belgia, Ranska - 22.6.2018 16:27

Where the beer is strong and the chocolate is dark. There were bras hanging from the window. In black, yellow, and red. We are in Belgium! It’s the football World Cup, and you can see it on the streets. Lots of houses have put something with the country’s colors out on display.

We are staying here with Deb’s parents. Enjoying the good life of not having to worry about cooking or cleaning. So far the time here has been filled with many administrative tasks in the bank and seeing the doctor and dentist. It’s becoming the ultimate health check. Firstly, because Switzerland health care has been too expensive, and secondly because we are going to live in the wild starting from September. Yes, we have just signed the contract with Medair to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo! It’s very exciting and we are looking forward to the mission.

I was able to visit Brussels for the first time when we met there with my friend Joonas who is working in the Finnish Embassy for the summer. I really like the city, its old buildings, historical and beautiful monuments and lively streets. Of course, great beer everywhere as well. I’ve taken a challenge to try as many different beers here as I can. But I think I have to come again, since there are more than 3,000 of them.

We went to Atomium, which is a landmark in the area. It was built for the ’58 World Expo that was held in Brussels. It’s an impressive structure, and must have felt like something from the future when it was built. 40 Million people came to visit it in the World Expo.

Belgium was a significant battle ground in the First World War. We learned more about it in the World War museum in Ypres, which was destroyed but then rebuilt after the war. Just to be bombed again in the Second World War. That’s hard to understand. How come people allow such destruction and suffering, especially so soon after the First World War, which would not have been forgotten about by then. We watched the remembrance ceremony in Ypres, held by the British every day at 8pm. I was surprised by the amount of people, there were busloads of them. We also visited another memoire in a park, where they have built a touching monument for the 600,000 people who died in the area. On our way to Dunkirk we also stopped at a remarkable cemetery at Tyne, where 12,000 soldiers were buried. I was impressed and happy to see that those killed in the war are being honored in such a way. I don’t really know if we have something similar in Finland regarding our war with Russia.. museums and monuments, I mean. My experience and understanding of the war became more concrete after this visit, and it will be interesting to visit the Second World War museum in Pearl Harbor!

We still have more than a week here before we head out to Thailand. We are going to meet with more friends, try more beers, watch more football, and even visit Paris, which will be the first visit for me in the French capital! Right now, I’m looking forward to going to the movies tonight, and throwing a wedding party tomorrow for the friends and family from Belgium who were not able to attend our wedding in Switzerland!

Welcome lunch in Leuven with Marieta and Jeff Be welcome to BrusselsAtomium Looking for MagritteGood! The famous monument of Brussels - Manneken PissFor equality Dans la grande placeHandsome guy. Joonas looks good too ;) Artisanal beers in Delirium Cafe with Joonas Lunch in Ypres  Memorial for the 600,000 killed in Belgium during WWI Bluff perspectives One evening in Ypres Mmm... mussels, they were so fresh, so delicious! Trying out the Ypres rally podium Memorial for those in Tyne  World War II, Dunkirk Just like in the movie England was still too far a swim

Greetings from the North

Norja, Suomi - 17.6.2018 12:14

Our time in the North has been very memorable; we have met with lovely people and seen beautiful scenery. Our batteries have been recharged in the midnight sun – it’s incredible how awake you feel when it’s always bright outside!

Let me tell a couple of stories of our travels above the Arctic Circle after we left Seinäjoki, where we met with the big family from my mum’s side. By the way, it seems like updating the blog is remaining my responsibility, while my wife is editing our video material. You can find the link and password to a nice video of our Scandinavia tour at the end of this post.

So, after a 6 hours train ride from Seinäjoki to Rovaniemi, which Deb used for editing videos, we arrived and, as usual, my grandpa was there to meet us at the train station. It was a joyful reunion, and even though Deb doesn’t speak Finnish and my grandparents don’t speak English they get well along, communicating by expressions and gestures. It’s always a relaxing time when we go to our grandparents. They take such good care making sure we put on at least a couple of kgs before we leave! My grandma had made the delicious cloudberry cake she usually makes when we visit. We told them about our wedding and showed pictures and videos of it. As they couldn’t come to Switzerland, we also showed them videos of our life over there so they could see the environment we have been living in.

Life at grandparents is simple and stressless. My grandpa had lost a tooth so he took his teeth for repair. However, time flew by as he was singing songs to us, without his upper teeth, that he forgot to pick up his teeth from the dentist before they closed. But he just laughed about it and said that “well, I think I will just eat porridge for breakfast tomorrow!”. He’s so funny. They had moved to a new apartment, which was really nice and just around the corner from Eetu and Paula, friends I met while studying in Helsinki. They had since moved to study and work in Rovaniemi, together with their Lapland dog, Milli. We went to visit them and spent a nice evening catching up, eating pizza, and playing board games! It was really nice seeing them again!

Although Rovaniemi is already at the Arctic Circle you can still drive much further north. So we did. Deb’s friend, Lise, from Mercy Ships lives in Hammerfest, so my grandpa offered us his car to drive and visit her in the northernmost town, which was still 650km further north from Rovaniemi. As we didn’t have so much time before going back to Helsinki, and we wanted to still spend more time with my grandparents, we could only spend one night in Hammerfest. But we did it anyway, 9hrs of driving there on Tuesday, and 9hrs of driving back on Wednesday. The good thing is that the sun doesn’t set for couple of months so it’s bright all the time, which makes driving that much less tiring and less dangerous. Those roads in Lapland are great, empty, wide open and straight! The only danger there are reindeer, and the police if they catch you enjoying the empty roads a bit too much. However, we didn’t experience problems with either of them. Hammerfest is the last ice free port on the coast, so they have built a big gas production facility over there. Apparently there are hundreds of kilometers of pipes from the station going to the gas sources in the arctic sea. And the vessel transporting the gas to its destinations is worth millions. We saw the station and the ship, as we hiked up some of the mountains in Hammerfest.

It’s a very barren environment, so far up north that there are no trees growing. So that makes you think it’s cold. A couple of weeks ago it was +25, and when we visited it was a solid +4 degrees. The weather up there is unpredictable; we saw sun, rain, hail, snow, and rainbows all in one hour. It’s quite a harsh environment, but it’s pretty as well. It’s so remote! They have a small airport but it’s not uncommon that flights are cancelled due to difficult weather conditions. Sometimes the only way to escape the island is by boat, as the roads can be blocked by avalanche. Lise has been living there for a couple of years, working in the hospital. Besides the people working at Statoil, the others are mainly the hospital staff, in the town of 10k habitants. If you take into account the number of reindeer living on the island, I think the population may be doubled.

My dare in Hammerfest was to swim in the sea, the ice cold sea. I’ve never seen sea water so clear. It’s not that I was too hot because of the sunshine, but it was just one of those things on the bucket list, ice bucket list.. I did it just in the beginning of our way back to Rovaniemi, so I was definitely awake for the drive! It wasn’t really swimming, it was more like panicking in the water. Also, as my grandpa said, the beaches up there are not so good. So it was basically just a rocky shore and I tried not to hurt myself while dipping into the freezing salt water. My watch showed the water to be +8 degrees, but it still didn’t feel warmer than the air that was a stable +4.

The drive back to Rovaniemi was beautiful. On our way to Hammerfest we drove through Ivalo and saw the big lake Inari. We arrived to the sea sooner and those views were nice, but I still preferred our way back on the west side through Alta and Enontekiö. The scenery changed a lot, we went through plains with no trees, along beautiful rivers, and then reached the tree line but still stayed high up from where we could see the forests and river down in the valley. Then drove in the valley next to beautiful mountain lakes and through narrow gorges. The forest became thicker but remained still very low, as the growth season in the north is short. Gradually the forest became taller and more variable, as we reached the border of Finland again.

For the last couple of days in Lapland we went with my grandparents to their cottage, which is quite remote, in the woods, by a lake. That’s a place where you can hear no sound. It’s quite amazing to be so deep in nature. There we stayed one night, watched the World Cup, piled some wood outside to dry for the next season and filled the shed with firewood for this season, helped my grandparents to put the jetty on the water for swimming, warmed up the sauna and went swimming. Then the next day it was time to say goodbye to my grandparents, as we flew back to Helsinki.

As we arrived in Helsinki, we went to my sister’s place to help her build a sofa bed she had bought. (making good use of her brother being in town..) She made dinner for us so it was a fair trade, hehe! The next day we met with my friends Kalle, Ida, Joonas, and Pauliina at Kippis Festival in Helsinki. It was a beautiful sunny day to enjoy live music, artisanal beers and burgers, and great seeing good friends! From the festival we went to Shotti Baari to play some shot roulette, a game that sounded so fun I had to try it and take others with me to this small and shady bar. We raised the bar, quite literally, and went next to the terrace on top of Torni, from where you have nice views over Helsinki in the sun set. I got to try the world’s best gin, Napue, from Finland. It looked very arctic with ice cubes, rosemary, and cranberries. On the terrace I happened to meet my friend Petri, whom I’ve known the longest, for over 20 years now! So it was a happy coincidence. That whole evening was a very nice ending for our time in Finland.

From this link you can watch the video of our tour in Scandinavia.

Password: 1205

Now, the time has come to move on to the next destination, Belgium, here we come!

 

Our wheels to Rovaniemi With Ukki Cloudberry cake Visiting Eetu, Paula and Milli On the road 18hrs in two days  Norway, baby! With Lise in Hammerfest View of Hammerfest Apero Polar bear beware!Last kiss? Cold cold cold!I am Thor! Back to Finland Ukki can still chop wood in his old days, but we helped him pile them. Nice little activities at the cottage. Wood for the winter With Mummi and Ukki Karelia stew Standing on the successfully installed jetty on the lake  The old poet Our next destination! See you again! My sister's apartment got new furniture! Summer princess At Kippis Festival with Ida, Kalle and Joonas Good times in Helsinki Shot roulette Found this Teddy Bear on top of Helsinki Quality drinks See you next time in Congo?

Meeting friends and family in Finland

Suomi - 10.6.2018 15:23

Since coming back from Sweden we have been actively meeting my friends and family in Finland. It’s been really good connecting with all of them!

We’ve also carried with us our polaroid camera and wedding guestbook and filled it with pictures and stories of the friends and family we’ve been meeting during the trip, a nice memory!

I’m so proud of my wife as she’s met every day with new people. And yesterday we met with the cousins, uncles and aunts from my mother’s side, 42 all in all, at a cottage we had rented by a lake in Western Finland, “Pohjanmaa” to celebrate my sister’s graduation and our wedding. Most of them didn’t speak English but we talked to all of them, and had sauna together. We also swam in the lake which was pretty chilly, but I’m so proud of Papi since she stayed the longest in the lake and sauna with me, and we did many times the normal sauna as well as the smoke sauna, with “vihta” that is a bunch of birch branches we use to “gently” beat ourselves with in the sauna, creating a nice aroma and it’s good for the body too! We ate traditional Finnish foods such as salmon soup and rye bread, and after the sauna we had different sausages cooked in the barbecue. We did some singing as well and my relatives were very impressed seeing me dancing as we showed some videos and photos from our wedding in Switzerland.

It was good spending time with family, as we see each other with such big group only once in 10 years or so. A lot had happened since I last saw them. Many had got married, they had kids, bought a house.. It was like getting to know them again. We spent Friday with my cousins Laura and Tuomas and their family at their house, watching videos of “Finnish prom” that Laura had attended, discussing and eating good food. There is too much good food on this trip, I’m gaining weight! But that’s because we can’t buy souvenirs as our luggage is full.. so we enjoy good food instead. We discovered how my aunt and uncle had met each other and it was thanks to this Finnish country side custom “rinki”. It means driving rounds around the town again and again, sometimes parking for a bit, maybe popping loud music, and the goal is to see if there happen to be any friends around in town or some interesting people to get to know to. So they were both on the rinki, “chasing” each other, and finally stopped their cars next to each other and started chatting. That’s how it started.

Funnily, as we were walking around the town of Seinäjoki today, I heard a familiar voice saying “hey!”; I turned around and saw that two of my cousins were there, they were on the rinki. As there was no traffic, I went to talk to them on the road and we agreed to go for a coffee nearby. That was a nice break, just a relaxed hour before our train to Lapland, where we are on our way to meet my grandparents and friends for a few days.

Meeting with Jyri (previous housemate) and Raimo (priest/squashmate) at Naughty BRGR in Helsinki Meeting with Miikka (uni friend) and Iina  Flamed salmon glamping with Mika in Nuuksio   Staying at Laura and Tuomas’ house Family in Finland Family from mom’s side Sauna, olut ja vihtaFreeezing  Some gents we found on the Rinki!

Greetings from Sweden

Ruotsi - 5.6.2018 16:06

We had a really nice couple of days in Stockholm together with my cousin’s family. It was great to see their baby, Aurora, the first baby I’ve seen from my cousins’ children. She is so cute and full of life!

We walked around Stockholm and my cousin was our tour guide showing us the sights. Funny thing but I think our favorite visit was to Spotify where the husband of my cousin works. That was out of this world! I would never leave work, if I was single and working at Spotify! We were very impressed.

We also visited the Greenpeace office where my cousin works, and that was cool as well! Seems like the working hours are very flexible here in Sweden, and people don’t seem too stressed about work. It is here where they tried 6 hour working days and I think the results were good. Another thing we noticed was that all the public toilets we visited were “all gender” toilets. I heard that the military service is now mandatory for all genders as well. So, life seems very equal here.

Djurgården was nice and quiet, and had interesting boats we could visit. Södermalm was a very nice area too, and much less touristy than downtown or old town Stockholm. Also we found a really great restaurant called Hermans, that served a delicious veggie buffet!

Now we are off to flight no. 2 out of 18!

       

Greetings from Finland

Ruotsi, Suomi - 4.6.2018 09:30

Hello world!

We have been witnessing the Finnish summer that is incredible when it lasts for more than a Tuesday afternoon! We’ve had such good fresh food, hot sauna, refreshing swimming in the lake, and the world’s best strawberries. I might be biased, but still.

Last evening we took the boat to Sweden. Beautiful sailing through the archipelagos. Today we will meet my cousin in Stockholm!

      

The day when everything’s still ahead

Sveitsi - 1.6.2018 16:13

It is with great excitement we are starting our journey! We have been waiting for this day to arrive, and it’s finally here, the three months vacation is now! Feels very good, no stress no worries, just us :)

Switzerland is sending us off with great weather. We went to the lake this morning to enjoy this paradise for the last time for a while. It truly is beautiful! The lake, the mountains.. and the friends we have are very dear, we’ll miss all of that at some points I’m sure. But we’ll have new experiences and learnings as we go, and “add value” again in the next place wherever it is.

We are on our way to the Geneva airport, then off to Helsinki. It’s been unusually HOT in the northern part of Europe for quite a few weeks already. Mmm, maybe the strawberries are ripe already then! Looking forward to the loooong northern evenings!

We’ve been spending a lot of time at the self storage lately. Our stuff will be safe here for a while. 

 

Stop and Go!

Sveitsi - 30.5.2018 20:18

Hello World,

Not so long ago I made a change by switching from writing in Finnish to writing in English. Now I’m about to make another change, switching from writing about me to writing about us!

My wife and I got married here in Switzerland just a couple of weeks ago. It was surely the happiest day of my life! One to remember, really, just like we had hoped for it to be, and actually even better because of some great surprises. The day was intimate, sincere, full of emotions and laughter. The word to describe it all and the feelings would be “blessed”. We are so grateful. It was worth all the preparation and hard work, which is also part of the wonderful memory of the day.

We didn’t stop there. Today was the “check-out” from our apartment. We have been packing and cleaning for the past three days, fortunately it was worth the back pain, since the apartment is in such a condition that we can leave without any penalties. As people usually do, we also go on a honeymoon after the wedding. Leaving the day after tomorrow, actually! The only thing is that we are gone for three months, and we won’t have an apartment during that time, so we will be a bit like vagabonds. So that’s why we needed to organize a lot of stuff for our departure, but it’s all done now and we’re just looking forward to taking off, and switching off!

Well, actually we will still be working on something; job hunting that is. There are some options in different organizations in different countries, and we are still figuring out what would be the right direction for us. Hopefully we’d know it sooner rather than later so we won’t have to worry about it during the trip.

So, the plan is to travel the first month in Europe visiting Finland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and France. Then we head out to Thailand, Australia, US, Canada, and Iceland, before returning back to Europe. You can read about our whereabouts and howabouts here. I am excited to start writing the blog again, together with my wife this time!

Weekends like real Swiss people do

Sveitsi - 21.10.2017 16:50

The autumn has been beautiful and colorful. Every weekend for the past few weeks we’ve been thinking “now this will be the last nice weekend to go out to the mountains before winter”, but we’ve done that already three weekends in a row, which means we’ve been able to do some nice hikes and explore more of Switzerland! The temperature went down close to zero at one point, but now it’s warmer again and during the day the quicksilver rises up to 20 degrees Celsius.

First one of our autumn hikes was at the Aletsch glacier in canton Valais. Aletsch is the largest glacier at the Alps, with length of 23km and maximum thickness of 1km. Like many other glaciers, it’s retreating as the average temperature rises. We did a 5.5hrs hike around the area where the glacier ends and turns into a river, in a UNESCO world heritage forest area. It was beautiful walking in the canyon where the glacier was still some 50 years ago. The glacier had left clear marks as it had moved along the cliffs. We crossed the glacier river gorge by a long suspension bridge. After the bridge it was quite an intense climb of 650m up the mountain to the cable car down to the valley and ultimately to Brig, where we had left our car. It was a really beautiful hike, ancient glacier tracks, and the pine forest up the mountain was really old and beautiful! I’d like to go again, and next time to a higher point where we could better see the vastness of the glacier, which looks really impressive in pictures in the internet.

Our next weekend hike was going to Grindelwald in the Interlaken area in canton Bern, in relation to the previous weekend hike just on the other side of Jungfrau mountain. Many people had told us that Grindelwald is their favorite area in Switzerland, so we had to check it out! And it was really beautiful indeed. Located next to the beautiful turquoise lakes of Interlaken and Thun, surrounded by impressive mountains like the Eiger and Jungfrau, between the exposed rocky mountains and green pastures lying there a cute Swiss village with small farm lands, a post card view. There are many options for hiking in Grindelwald, and one can easily spend a few days doing nice hikes there. We did a 5hr hike towards Glecksteinhut, which is open from June to September to visitors. Apparently there is a family who live there in the summer and they serve food and drinks for hikers. The hut is at 2,317m altitude, and we didn’t have enough time and strength to make it all the way to the hut. We hiked to about 2,200m where we could see the Upper Grindelwald Glacier. On our way up we came across a few hikers who had to turn back because the route going through a waterfall was too icy and dangerous. Fortunately by the time we arrived to the waterfall the sunshine had melted all ice, so it was safe to go through, we just got a bit wet. On our way down we saw a small capricorn family. These animals are in their element on high and exposed cliffs like this. It’s amazing!

The third glacier weekend was with Deborah’s parents at Zermatt! In my two years here in Switzerland I still hadn’t made it to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn mountain, appearing in the brand image of Toblerone chocolate. I didn’t expect much, I thought I had seen the mountain in so many posters and pictures, that I wouldn’t be impressed when I actually see it. I was so wrong; I was really impressed by the dramatic horn, that was visible from everywhere in the valley. And I really liked the village of Zermatt. There are no cars, just some small electric taxis, so it’s a quiet town, in the heart of beautiful mountains. The town is surrounded by high mountains all around, and as you get up, you see 40 peaks rising above 4,000m! There are many beautiful hikes around, you can do all by foot, but you also have many cable cars and mountain trains to assist you on your way, and as usually in Switzerland, restaurants are never far away even at the mountains! So, not necessary to bring a big backpack. We stayed one night in a hotel in Zermatt and it was really nice to see the town in the evening and in the morning as well, instead of doing just a day trip. There are also many shops, restaurants and spas available. It was the last weekend of the summer season, and the town will quiet down for a month or so, before winter season begins. We went to a really nice restaurant called Chez Vrony, which was open for the last day. It has an amazing terrace up at the mountains, basking in sun, looking at the Matterhorn, and they serve delicious meals. Highly recommended! We were blessed with amazing weather as well, so we could really enjoy the weekend, beautiful colors of the nature, fresh air, good food and company! I look forward to revisiting Zermatt, either for mountain biking or skiing!

Aletsch Glacier (Wikipedia) Aletsch Glacier (Wikipedia) In the footsteps of the Aletsch Glacier Aletsch UNESCO Me, Deb, Eiger Ice princess Icy path up the mountain Grindelwald Matterhorn Model Fondue after hiking, like the real Swiss people do! Cemetery for climbers at Zermatt. This grave is dedicated for all the unknown climbers.

Hoi! from Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein, Sveitsi - 1.10.2017 13:59

I hope I got the name right! They actually sell mugs with ten different ways to misspell the country.

It’s funny, I was in Hong Kong back in 2012 for an exchange semester (you’ll find posts about that in the blog too, in Finnish though). Became friends with the facilitator of the Christian small group I was attending at the Uni. A really cool guy. About a year ago, I would say, he came to visit me in Switzerland, as he came for a job interview at the same time. And here we are now, both living in Switzerland! He lives on the other side of the country, though, in St. Gallen. When Deborah was in Lebanon and Jordan for two weeks, I went to visit my friend in St Gallen for a weekend! He lives 10 minutes away from Liechtenstein, where he works now at the Hilti headquarters, so I was able to get to know another country as well! Basically I think Liechtenstein is an extension of Switzerland, though. That’s how it feels like. They use the Swiss Francs as currency, they have Swiss postal codes.. But they have their own license plates, Prince, castle and the flag, and their own words, like “Hoi!”, which means “Hello!”, and that’s funny because that’s also the word my Finnish grandma uses for greeting! Wonder who was first, my grandma or Liechtenstein..

Meeting with international friends' group in St Gallen The Princely House The picture I wasn't allowed to take...! Many museums to visit in Liechtenstein This is the neighborhood of Heidi, the famous children's story at the Alps Great football game between St Gallen and FC Sion!

Ringed in Italy

Italia, Sveitsi - 27.9.2017 23:36

Deb and I took off on Thursday after work, and drove over the Grand Sant Bernard pass to Aosta, in Italy. We were on our way to the coast of Cinque Terre, and stayed the first night in a nice quiet hotel at the mountains. As always so far, the Italian hotel experience was great! The staff were overly helpful and friendly, serving us dinner and breakfast, and even prepared the spa for the two of us on Friday morning. We were actually supposed to stay at a camping ground the first night, but then noticing that the evening temperatures go down to almost zero degrees at the mountains, we changed our minds and stayed indoors. Good decision.

The weather forecast for Cinque Terre had been on and off the whole time – I had been following it for over a week, very unnerving. We wanted to go to Cinque Terre for a long weekend. Sometimes it looked like it would rain the whole time, and sometimes it looked a bit better, but I wasn’t too optimistic about tanning on the beach, although in the summer the place is hot like a desert! But this time weather was a big question mark. And especially because we had bought and gathered all the camping gear and wanted to try camping that weekend. It wouldn’t be so nice to camp in the rain, for sure. Anyhow, as we drove on Friday, it was raining most of the way. However, fortunately arriving in Cinque Terre the rain had just passed, so we were able to pitch our tent while staying dry. The tent was fresh from the package, and we managed to assemble it without breaking anything, the tent nor the peace of the day. I was very impressed by the tent, actually, it came in a very small and light package. That was the idea, so you could carry it easily in a backpack when hiking.

We started our first hike that day from the village centre of Levanto, where we had our camp site. Levanto is the next village outside of the five Cinque Terre villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. For all the surfers out there, Levanto seemed to be pretty busy among wave riders. Not the biggest ones, but still. Levanto was a good place to stay as it was less crowded than the cinque terre villages, yet all the villages were within the reach of a short train ride. To the first village, Monterosso, we still hiked from Levanto. It was about a 3hr hike, quite a bit of up and down, along the coast and the mountains. The other side of the mountain offers nice views to the Cinque Terre coast. We started the hike with Italian Gelatto in Levanto, enjoying the occasional sunshine, which unfortunately turned into rain towards the end of the hike. Because of the rain, the town of Monterosso was a bit underwhelming, however, we got our first feel of the pastel colored, petite and lively cinque terre villages. We took the train back to Levanto, which was only a 5-10 minute ride away, and the ticket was only a few euros. In Levanto we went to a pizzeria called La Picea, which had won the second place in World’s pizza championship. We had to wait a bit because we didn’t make a reservation, but were lucky to get in. I had the award winning pizza and it was delicious, the best pizza I’ve tasted: slices of truffle, burrata cheese, roasted pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and delicious parma ham. That night, as we got back to our tent, it was raining hard. Luckily we had our tent ready and everything was still dry inside. However, we couldn’t sleep very well that night. I hadn’t been to a camping ground like that before, only camping in the nature, where it’s quiet and peaceful.

Saturday came, the wind from the Mediterranean cleared the sky and the sun was out! We set out on a journey to Riomaggiore, the southern most of the Cinque Terre villages. As we arrived, we stopped to enjoy the sunshine and the sea on a beautiful cliff terrace, where we stayed and had fizzy drinks to wake us up! Awake and on the go again we explored the beautiful, picturesque village. There were quite many tourists, so after a while we hit the trails, actually called Ring of Riomaggiore. It was beautiful, on the trails there was almost no one else, and the views over Riomaggiore and the coast were amazing. The hike was about 2-3hrs long, and on the top of it was a beautiful church overlooking the coast. We stopped there to have a snack, take some photos, and enjoy the view. The weather was pretty ideal for hiking, around +25 degrees with a nice breeze. We descended down back to Riomaggiore and stayed there for a lunch in one of the small alleyways. Then we walked to the port, because we wanted to take a boat to a village called Portovenere. There is no train connection to Portovenere, which is at the end of the peninsula, therefore can be reached only by boat, or a 5hr hike from Riomaggiore, or by a bus from La Spezzia, which is the biggest city in the area. It was nice to take a boat to see the coast from the sea. And, frankly, we preferred to save the long hike for another time. Today was not the day for that kind of exercise. (Although I had originally planned to do the long hike this day!)

As we arrived to Portovenere, we sailed between the Saint Peter’s Cathedral and Palmira island, into the calm bay of Portovenere. From the boat we could see the nicely colored buildings by the sea, cafés and restaurants. Fortunately there were much less tourists in the more secluded Portovenere than in the other villages of Cinque Terre.

I wanted to take Deb to the cathedral that was built on a rock at the tip of the peninsula. We walked there and to a platform, which was on top of the church, looking towards the peninsula and the Mediterranean. The sky had become a bit cloudy by this time, but just now at that moment we were able to see a bit of a sunset between the clouds. As we were looking at the view from the terrace, there was an Italian girl who asked if we wanted her to take our picture. Yes, definitely, this was exactly what I had hoped for. There was even a white flower to decorate our photo. I asked her to take one more picture, and in that moment I reached to my pocket and pulled out the ring to propose to my dear sweetheart, the love of my life. It was a magical moment. I was nervous, and committed. I couldn’t see anyone else in that moment. And she said “Yes”, I slid the ring on her finger, took her in my arms and kissed her. People on the terrace were cheering and applauding. The photographer didn’t panic, nor steal the camera, but saved the moment. And as a cherry on the cake, there was a boy with a polaroid camera, and he had managed to capture the moment as well, and gave us the picture as a memory of that moment. It couldn’t have been better, especially since Deb loves polaroid pictures.

Feeling like being on top of the world, super relaxed and a bit surreal, we walked through the old town of Portovenere to a nice hotel I had booked. They had given us a bigger a room with a beautiful sea view. It was so nice to be in a hotel room after a night of camping, being able to take a shower and change to nicer clothes. I explained to my fiancé how I had planned everything, and she was so happy, even surprised about the proposal in public, as I usually don’t like much attention. I did it for her, since I knew she would appreciate a photo of the proposal. Deb couldn’t take her eyes off the ring, she loves it, which is a big relief and success for me, since deciding what kind of ring to go for was not an easy choice. The evening continued with a dinner. I had reserved a table for us in the best restaurant in Portovenere, and the fine food with all the tastings before and after fit the special occasion perfectly. If having a picture taken was one of the parts I knew Deb would like about a proposal, the other part I knew was fireworks. Unbelievably, just that night, our special night, there happened to be beautiful fireworks to celebrate our engagement. And that is special, something that comes back to my mind again and again, how amazing it was. Thanks to you, who helped me. Actually, I think I know who it was..

 

Sunday morning we woke up to the sound of the sea and had a really nice breakfast on the sunny terrace of our hotel. We left Portovenere by bus to La Spezzia. The bus went fast along the winding coastal roads, past the Italian Naval base. We arrived to the train station just in time to catch the train back to Levanto. We traveled by train through all the Cinque Terre villages back to the town were our car and tent were at the camping grounds. We had bought daily travel passes for the area, which allowed us to use trains as much as we liked. It was a good idea to buy in advance anyway, because the waiting times at the ticket booths were so long that you might have easily missed your train while waiting to buy a ticket. We had booked another hotel night for the last evening, so we went back to the camping ground to pack our tent and take our car.

The weather was still sunny and nice. The sea, however, was quite rough. It was nice for photos though! All the boats were canceled, so it was good we had taken the boat the day before. We took the train from Levanto to Vernazza, where we had nice lunch at the “Lunch Box”, a vegetarian alternative restaurant. The restaurant was above the main street, so it was a great place for people watching. And there were a lot of people, so we took a beautiful 2hrs hike to the next town, Corniglia. Again, on the hike there were not many other people, it was nice and quiet. At the tourist info in Vernazza they told us that all the hikes were officially closed.. And there was a checkpoint along the trail, but the person in the hut had her feet up on the table and eyes on her phone. Corniglia was a beautiful little village on top of a cliff. We checked into our hotel, where our room was on the top floor, so it was quite exciting to stay so high on a cliff’s edge! I liked the town, it’s more secluded than the other towns, and it had nice little shops and gelaterias. For the sunset and dinner, however, we took the train to the last Cinque Terre town we hadn’t yet visited – Manarola. The famous picture of the colorful village on the rocks with the waves splashing high. The sunset was beautiful, and the place was just perfect for nice pictures and us securing a lock on the fence. Lock never to be opened, as the key is now somewhere in the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

We found a very nice restaurant up above the town of Manarola. There was a long queue but we managed to get in without a reservation, always so lucky! This restaurant was specialized in sea food. We shared a dish of sword fish pasta with slices of truffle. Excellent. And the wine was fine too! We spoke French during the dinner, because all around us were American tourists, and we wanted some privacy. Hehe, so funny to have a private language in situations like that! After the nice dinner we found our way down to the train station through the narrow streets of Manarola. It was just a 5 minute train ride to Corniglia, but once arrived we had to climb a couple of hundred of steps back up to the top of the hill and to our top floor hotel room in the cute cliff edge building. That helped us to digest and sleep well.

Monday was the last day of our holiday. We had our breakfast on the terrace, and started our journey further south, to Pisa. We thought since we were only an hour or so away from the funny leaning tower site, we might as well go there for lunch and see what  the fuzz is all about. It rained, it was bucketing. Reminded us of our trip to Milano earlier this year. But once we arrived in Pisa, we had sun shine! So that worked out nicely, luckily. So many tourists, oh my goodness. Quite stressful. But the place is beautiful. It’s a big open space, and the cathedral is impressive. The leaning tower is actually a bell tower of the cathedral. Its foundation was too shallow and so the tower started tilting. Nowadays the tilt has been corrected from some 5 degrees down to 4 degrees. It looks really tilted still though! So funny, all the people taking the famous picture of holding the tower. We did that too, though! And then we had nice pizza, we thought to do that since we were in Pisa. We also ordered some dish from the menu of which we had no idea what it was. But it was good, some kind of pizza dough with fresh cheese. Never seen that before. It started raining again as we got back to our car and started our journey back home.

Thanks to waking up early, we still had enough time to drive back 7 hours to Lausanne and arrive at a reasonable time.

After a trip like this I think about how happy I am, and what a privilege it is to live in Switzerland. Can just drive for a romantic weekend in Cinque Terre. What a blessed life. And how lucky am I, now being engaged to a beautiful and loving woman!

Grand Saint Bernard Rainy Monterosso Riomaggiore San Pedro Cathedral Portovenere Ringed! Dreamy Vernazza Wavy Vernazza Corniglia on the rocks The jump! Sunny Manarola Sealing the deal Cou Cou